Is charitable giving up, down or sideways? Maybe we are.

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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Recent headlines report that giving grew sluggishly in 2018. AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Report says that growth was about 1.6 percent. Blackbaud estimated about 1.5 percent growth. That is potentially below inflation—depending on how you look at it, giving went down.

Well, actually, the charitable giving story is a bit more complicated than that:

  • Higher education giving is up. We saw a substantial increase of over 7 percent in cash receipts at the end of fiscal year 2018 (usually July) per the VSE survey. Giving is also changing. A large part of that increase was in alternate giving vehicles like donor advised funds and individually-directed but “other organization” receipted funds like family foundations, etc.
  • Campaigns continue to set records. One reason for this is something all the giving reports have pointed to, a massive growth in really big givers. Many charities are setting records for mega-donations at a time when their donor retention, overall participation, and total number of donors are declining. If your organization has the fundraising infrastructure and giving opportunities in place to court these big donors, you are going to see the impact of this historic wealth transfer.
  • Broad giving statistics require context. Overall, giving is likely to be sluggish when considered in comparison to things like GDP and inflation in a slow growth economy. Income inequality is getting worse and the student loan debt crisis is an actual crisis that we know is impacting alumni willingness to give.

In fact, as a few of my favorite industry pundits have put it, most of the doom and gloom about fundraising results is overblown, tax policy didn’t really have that much impact and most of the problem is how we’re engaging donors.

  • Younger donors are giving differently. Millennials make up a huge portion of our potential donor base. They are responding to different types of appeals, are more burdened by debt, and may be just as likely to give to a compelling GoFundMe campaign directly supporting a friend in need (or a compelling social media case). We ultimately will all start to behave like the young people. So, if you’re not adapting to these new, digital first and socially networked giving tactics, you are going to have trouble attracting and keeping all types of donors.
  • Reports from fundraising CRMs and fundraiser surveys are only one part of the picture. If people are giving differently, donor advised funds, Facebook giving, and other methods are changing the game, our impressions and data are going to lag donor behavior. I would suggest that we can talk to the donors directly and ask them how they are giving and how they plan to give.

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Can a Donor-Advised Fund Be Used to Pay Off a Donor’s Pledge?

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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In our recent webinar with Ann Kaplan at CASE, “What $47 Billion in Higher Education Giving Means for You,” we talked about another record year in donation receipts recorded by the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey, our annual record of giving to colleges and universities. Highlights include:

  • A 7.2 percent increase in gifts (cash) received by higher education institutions.
  • A jump in mega gifts over $100 million, which help fuel those record-breaking higher education campaigns we’re all reading about.
  • Increases in both current operations (6.2 percent) and capital giving (8.6 percent).
  • An increase from every type of donor, including a big jump in the “other organization” category, which includes donor-advised funds. We’re watching this category as it grows, likely affected by both tax policy and the growing popularity of this giving method.

But the biggest question I’ve gotten since the webinar is one we answered late in the webinar about those donor-advised funds (well, I tried, but Ann actually succeeded, which is why I invite her genius to present every year).

Since donor-advised fund contributions are just growing and growing, they could collide with our campaigns and reunion pushes. Can a donor-advised fund be used to pay off a pledge?

As Ann explained, the IRS has provided guidance on this, and the door is open for donor-advised fund grants to be applied to pledges:

In fact, Fidelity (the biggest fund) even provides a guide, with screenshots, on how a donor can execute a “non-binding pledge” and even set up a recurring grant direction from their fund.

The key seems to be that the pledges must not be “legally binding,” and of course we all know about the requirement that donor-advised funds provide nothing more than an “incidental” benefit to a donor. For the most part, our run-of-the-mill reunion and campaign pledges are likely not to be legally binding, especially if the donor ensures they aren’t using the guidance like Fidelity and other funds have provided. And as always, the tax documentation goes to the fund, not the donor, who receives any applicable tax benefits at the time of their initial contribution to their donor-advised fund.

a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.


It’s time to get to know donor-advised funds and the flexibility they provide donors, if for no other reason than they are just growing like crazy. We think there’s a chance that recent tax policy, and the influence of both savvy financial advisors and the incredible marketing of these donor-advised funds, will cause this type of giving to accelerate. More and more donors—and not just the richest—will be likely to “bundle” giving at a time that it is advantageous, and then direct grants over time.

A strategy for how to inform donors that you are ready to accept donor-advised fund disbursements, an internal strategy to identify and code donors that use them, and a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.

These gift vehicles (and similar vehicles like family foundations and closely-held corporation gifts) are indeed gifts that flow from individual philanthropic direction. As the VSE data shows, they are growing in higher education, and we all need to get smarter about how to encourage and embrace them.

Disclaimer: This opinion piece by RNL consulting is not intended to offer legal advice. In all cases, charities and organizations should consult legal counsel before adopting gift acceptance and accounting practices.

Talk with our experts about you fundraising strategies

RNL offers an array of data-driven fundraising consulting solutions to help you take your donor engagement strategy to the next level. Each consulting engagement is tailored to your goals and institution–no cookie cutters allowed. Contact us to find out how RNL can help amplify your fundraising results today.

 

The OmniChannel Illusion in Higher Ed Fundraising

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Josh Robertson

Vice President of Product Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Josh has over 17 years of experience in the industry, oversees fundraising strategy, analytics and product development and has worked with over 100+ institutions.
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Marketing buzzwords in fundraising are like honey to bears, we love them.  Over the past several months I’ve noticed more institutions mentioning their omnichannel outreach as a sort of golden fleece approach to annual giving and alumni engagement.  While I’m a big believer in the effectiveness of omnichannel marketing, once I start investigating it’s seldom omnichannel campaigns that we see institutions executing in higher education fundraising. Instead, it’s multichannel, which brings more channels, more complexity, but not necessarily better results.

So what is omnichannel and how is it different from multichannel? Omnichannel strategy is a focus on the user experience that commonly uses both online and traditional channels in an integrated manner, focusing much more on engagement and interactions and using that data to fuel additional outreach.

Below are 3 examples of how omnichannel is different than what most institutions are doing today:

Focus on the Individual Alumni Donor Experience

This means thinking less about your outreach calendar or when you want to reach donors and more about how you will continue to engage them as they connect with you. It means ensuring that your channels not only speak with a consistent message, but that when a donor takes an action, that it triggers a follow up email or a phone call from a student or a set of retargeting digital ads or all three of those things launch based on the desired outcome.

Omnichannel Example: A donor opens your fiscal year end email clicks on the “give now” button but doesn’t make a gift.  This happens far more times than a donor clicking on the link and making a gift. So how do we re-engage that donor.  The sample flow below shows how that action should trigger automated responses.

An omnichannel flow is based on what your donors do, not your “calendar.”

 Reduce Friction in the Giving Process

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Passive/Aggressive: The Art of Creating a Successful Fundraising Email Subject Line

Shad Hanselman

Shad Hanselman

Associate Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Shad has over fifteen years of experience in higher education fundraising, serving as a senior leader in complex annual giving programsfor top tier universities. He now pioneers new products to propel the success of RNL clients as a member of our leadership team.
Shad Hanselman

What is the best subject line for a fundraising email solicitation? Is it an aggressive call to action? How about a warm and fuzzy message that may not mention giving? Ask anyone in the industry and they have an opinion on this, mostly based on something they were told early in their career or their personal preference.

Like so many things in fundraising, this is an excellent example of the phrase: “your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.”

Fundraising email subject line results

Which subject lines get donors to open a fundraising email? Here are our findings from a test of nearly 340,000 emails.

At Ruffalo Noel Levitz we seek to shatter myths in fundraising and use data to inform our strategy. So, we partnered with four institutions to test subject lines across 24 emails during their calendar year-end efforts in 2018 and the results were eye-opening.

The fundraising email subject line tests

We sent more than 339,000 emails to 12 audience segments across 6 universities. Each audience segment was split evenly with half receiving a passive message subject line and half receiving an aggressive call to action subject line.

So, what works better, a “passive” or “aggressive” subject line?

The reality is: it doesn’t matter…much. Here are the results of the 24 tests.

Subject Line Type Passive Aggressive
Open-Rate wins 7 5
 Open Rate 11.7% 11.4%
Click-to-Open Wins 6 6
Click-to-Open Rate 2.7% 2.7%

In 58% of head-to-head tests, the “friendly” subject line had a higher open rate than the more “direct” counterpart. However, there was no statistical difference in the click-to-open rate, which means that the subject line helps get the email opened, but the content and call to action seem to get the click.

The subject line themes that worked best

There were a few items in our tests that showed promise for positively impacting the effectiveness of the subject line. A few of the themes we observed were:

  • Family Comes First: 100% of subject lines that referenced being part of the institutional family outperformed their non-family-oriented counterparts.
  • Cast a Vision: From changing lives to strengthening the institution, subject lines that gave the recipient an opportunity to insert themselves as the hero outperformed those that were more institutionally-oriented.

Our advice for the best year-end fundraising email subject lines

Based on this test, our best advice for crafting a successful fundraising email subject line is to remember who you are writing to and why your message would matter to them. Instead of going back and forth over a passive or aggressive subject line, use your time wisely and craft a concise message to your recipients that connects them to their passion, casts them as part of your community, and provides them with an opportunity to make themselves the hero of their philanthropic journey.

Request a fundraising consultationEven better, talk with our fundraising experts about how you can optimize your fundraising email communications as part of a broader omnichannel strategy. We have helped hundreds of institutions connect with millions of donors, and we can discuss the optimal steps you can take to better engage your donors. Request a consultation now.

Giving Day Results: February Update

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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Since the start of the year, we’ve been watching the great giving day results of our campus partners using RNL Giving Day. As we shared last year in our report examining more than $35M in giving day results, these one-day events involve a lot of planning and great technology. They’re also true multichannel engagement efforts.

Giving days vary quite a bit with some institutions including significant leadership and major giving components. Here are four recent examples of successful giving days from RNL partners where they exceeded their goals and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stockton University—First giving day exceeds donor goal by 28%

Click for the Stockton University giving day page – The university’s first giving day had a goal of 500 donors and had secured more than $55,000 in match and challenge gifts prior to the day.

  • Total Dollars: $101,949.00
  • Total Gifts: 643 (143 more than their goal)
  • Online Dollars: $42,350.55
  • Online Gifts: 564

“You and your team were a huge part of our success and played a vital role in providing us confidence, research and the necessary resources to launch our inaugural day of giving.” – Kelly Brennan, Assistant Director of Annual Giving, Stockton University

The University of Kansas—More than $730k and 1,900 donors

Click for the KU giving day page – KU also launched their first giving day ever, but also dealt with inclement weather that closed four of their five campuses. Despite that obstacle, their 65 matches, challenges, and leaderboards helped saved the day and produced a giving day in the high six figures:

  • Total Dollars: $734,621.00
  • Total Gifts: 1,898
  • Online Dollars: $245,584.16
  • Online Gifts: 1,522
Giving day results: University of Kansas raised more than $734,000.

The KU Giving Day raised over $734k in gifts

DePaul University—Beating a goal of 1,000 donors

Click for DePaul’s giving day page – DePaul’s fifth giving day surpassed their goal of 1,000 donors with an hour to spare.

  • Total Dollars: $70,506.16 ($120,506 with their challenge included)
  • Total Gifts: 1,034
  • Online Dollars: $46,745.88
  • Online Gifts: 723

Cleveland State University—Biggest giving day reaches $270k

Click for Cleveland State University’s giving day page – Also hosting their fifth giving day, Cleveland State engaged more donors and raised more money than ever.

  • Total Dollars: $269,332
  • Total Gifts: 2,541
  • Online Dollars: $201,806.32
  • Online Gifts: 2,356

The Cleveland State call center also exceeded their goal for the day by over $2,000. This was truly a multichannel event.

Learn strategies that lead to great giving day results

You can read more giving day statistics and find out about best practices for these record-breaking events in the RNL Giving Day Index and by listening to our webinar, Top Takeaways From $37M in Giving.

RNL Giving Day and RNL Crowdfunding offer your institution the tools to get excite your donors, engage volunteers, and harness a multichannel effort for success. Our expert team can help you take your giving day and online giving to the next level. Talk with our strategists about how you can tap into the power of online giving and write your own success story.

Major Gifts + Giving Days = Win, even on #GivingTuesday

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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#GivingTuesday can be a catalyst for major givingHappy #GivingTuesday, fellow fundraisers! This year seems like it will be another record-setting event, with charities around the world receiving a ton of support as we move further into the holiday season.

A whole lot of this giving is boosted and amplified by major giving. In fact, in our recent study of 47 giving days totaling $37M in donations, we found that online giving drives the bulk of individual donations, but offline giving such as major gifts, challenges and matches made up over two-thirds of the total funds.

Why does this work? The first reason is that matches and challenges are a time-tested way to get people on the “bandwagon” and give them a sense that even though their gift is smaller, they are part of something bigger. Secondly, competitions between academic areas, groups of alumni, even states and regions “gamify” giving and just make it more exciting. Here are just a few examples from today’s #GivingTuesday of institutions using the RNL Giving Day Platform:

It takes two key things to make this effective donor motivation strategy work on a giving day:

  1. The right technology to offer the incentives and show donors a growing total.
  2. Strong relationships with your major and planned giving team who are most likely to find the big donors who can showcase a gift on your giving day.

As you plan for next year’s #GivingTuesday, or your special giving day, make both a priority.

We’ll be covering these key tactics, and how you can use giving days as a 365-day, full-team strategy, in our upcoming webinar on December 5. Register now to find out how to bring your giving day to the next level.

 

#GivingTuesday and giving days: free webinar

Anatomy of an incredible #GivingTuesday

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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ggeeksmallGiving Tuesday has really transformed the holidays for me. The day and movement was born out of the efforts of the 92nd Street Y in NYC along with some enterprising and socially conscious leaders who pioneered the idea in 2012 as a counter to the biggest shopping combo of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The first Tuesday after Thanksgiving is now one of the biggest charity days of the year. This year’s total exceeded $116 million donated and more than 1 million gifts.

Giving day guru Justin Ware, who works with our ScaleFunder platform, offered some great tips on how to get your own giving day organized as well as excellent insights in his recent podcast interview. To add to this great advice, I’d like to break down what I saw as a donor and fundraising geek in the donations that I made on Tuesday.

A central example of #GivingTuesday greatness is one of my alma maters, Illinois State University, where I used to work and now geek out as a doctoral student studying how and why people give to higher education. We partner for their phone program, but their giving day program is a creation of their energetic and creative advancement team.

Here are the things that I saw that impressed me on Tuesday at Illinois State and other charities I gave to and why I think they worked.

Showing where the gift goes

ISUgiveTuesday

4 compelling reasons to give to Illinois State University, all on one screen.

Giving Tuesday is a movement. We’re all getting solicitations. Everyone wakes up and quickly realizes “something is up.” But you absolutely cannot expect that the day or increased communication alone will motivate donors to act. We still must show why giving is important. This helps your donors sift through the requests and reminders they will get and focus on their passion, and also allows you to make several cases for support. Illinois State did this with four key messages which appealed to just about any donor.

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Report from the 2015 CASE Conference for Student Advancement

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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PrintI had the privilege of attending as faculty at the 2015 CASE Conference for Student Advancement last week in Washington, D.C. For more than 40 years, this summer conference has highlighted the best of what is happening on campus by students in our field.

There was so much incredible enthusiasm on display by all the student, advisor and professional attendees. I had great conversations about the future of philanthropy and advancement, and saw so many exciting things that are happening on campuses across the continent and abroad. Continue Reading »

6 Stages for Motivating Student Phonathon Callers

Elaine Ezrapour

Elaine Ezrapour

Program Center Manager at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Elaine Ezrapour was a caller, supervisor and apprentice manager at Binghamton University and then became program center manager at the University of Rochester in 2013.
Elaine Ezrapour

motivationcroppedsmallAs a phonathon manager, student motivation is one of the most important aspects for me to consider in gearing up for a successful year of calling. When my student employees are satisfied in the workplace, their calls are more enthusiastic and personable. Motivated callers also mean less turnover, higher productivity, better calling expertise, and greater buy-in to the value of annual giving. Combined, these elements translate into better performance for the entire phone program.

Simply put, happy callers = results.

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Alumni Passion Matters

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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ggeeksmallThe stats are rough.

When I tell my friends that only about 8% of alumni nationally contribute to their college or university each year, they think that us fundraisers are really fighting an uphill battle.

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Fundraising Voices: Cole Swanson, Writer

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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ColeswansonYour message to donors is important and preparing the wording of the perfect mail, email or call is crucial. The Ruffalo Noel Levitz fundraising writing team serves hundreds of institutions and charities worldwide.

I sat down with Cole Swanson, a member of the writing team to ask about the writing process and specifically, his tips for using phone fundraising scripts.

How long have you been with
the writing team?
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How to Motivate Student Fundraisers

Molly Mendoza

Molly Mendoza

Program Center Manager at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Molly Mendoza is Program Center Manager at the University of La Verne, a RuffaloCODY call center. She began her career as a fundraiser phoning for the University of the Pacific Fund and has worked with institutions across the U.S. on assignment.
Molly Mendoza

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teamworksmallBeing a student phonathon caller is not an easy job.

Last night across the globe, RuffaloCODY student callers dialed the phone over 700,000 times to ask alumni to donate. Continue Reading »

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